Today, I wrote about Barack Obama’s trip to Afghanistan and Iraq and mentioned the flap over Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel in which he agreed with Obama’s timetable for withdrawing American troops.
Asked when the troops should leave, al Maliki responded:
“As soon as possible, as far as we’re concerned. U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.”
Was he endorsing Obama? he was asked.
“Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of U.S. troops in Iraq would cause problems. Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans’ business. But it’s the business of Iraqis to say what they want.”
Afterward a spokesman for al Maliki, in a statement distributed by the American military, tried to say the prime minister’s comments had been mistranslated.
But, according to The New York Times, it turns that the translator was al Maliki’s own. And the Times was given a tape of the interview and translated it independently. Al Maliki indeed said 16 months.
After a meeting between Obama and al Maliki on Monday, the same spokesman, Ali al Dabbagh, said, according to Reuters:
“We cannot give any timetables or dates but the Iraqi government believes the end of 2010 is the appropriate time for the withdrawal.”
Obama first visited Iraq in 2006.
PHOTO: In this photo released by the U.S. army, U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama, left, top U.S. military commander in Iraq, David Petraeus, center, and U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, R-Neb, ride inside a helicopter in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, July 21, 2008. Iraq’s government welcomed Obama on Monday with a message of apparent common ground on American troop withdrawal goals: expressing hopes that combat forces could leave by 2010. (AP Photo/Ssg. Lorie Jewell, HO)